California high court won’t review employment claim against religious college
California’s high court has let stand a lower court’s decision refusing to
hear an employment discrimination claim against a religious-affiliated
In late March a California appeals court dismissed an employment
discrimination lawsuit by Shaunie Eminger Schmoll, a former chaplain of Chapman
University, a private school in Orange County affiliated with the Disciples of
Christ Church. Schmoll sued the university arguing that she was fired in
violation of the state’s Fair Employment and Housing Act. The university’s
attorneys argued, however, that the First Amendment’s religious-liberty clauses
barred the court from presiding over an employment dispute between a religious
organization and its ministerial employee.
Judge Sheila Sonenshine, writing for the appeals court, said “the First
Amendment guarantees to a religious institution the right to decide matters
affecting its ministers’ employment, free from the scrutiny and second-guessing
of the civil courts.”
Schmoll then asked the California Supreme Court to reverse the appeals court
ruling. On June 21, the high court unanimously upheld the decision.
Schmoll’s attorneys had argued that the appeals court’s ruling was a
violation of equal protection rights. Schmoll had argued that the she was
demoted and then fired after she told university officials about student
complaints of sexual harassment by two faculty members. California state law
bars demoting or firing an employee who raises civil rights violations.
Justice David Sills, writing for the majority of the state’s high court, said
it did not matter “whether such an employment decision is based on doctrine or
“The First Amendment guarantees to a religious institution the right to
decide matters affecting its ministers’ employment, free from scrutiny and
second-guessing of the civil courts,” Sills wrote.